Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and leaders of four of the state’s other largest cities rattled their tin cups before Gov. Tony Evers earlier this month, pleading for more state funding support for essential services.
The meeting comes as Evers and the Legislature weigh making substantial changes to how local governments, including cities, are funded. Cities, counties, towns and villages are hoping a record-high budget surplus approaching $7 billion will give policymakers the freedom to increase funding and perhaps change the formula used to determine how much money local governments get from the state.
In addition to Antaramian, the group included Racine Mayor Cory Mason as well as the mayors of Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay.
Mason said he was encouraged that no one in the meeting was locked into a single plan, but instead all were united in the need to increase funding.
“We’re all in search of achieving something that’s possible in the real world,” Mason said.
That surplus poses a remarkable opportunity – and challenge – to fix some of the financial woes faced by municipalities around the state and probably enough to enact some serious tax reforms as well.
The pinch of declining state shared revenue support in real dollars over the past three decades and state-imposed levy limits was evident in last year’s elections when a staggering 37 referendums to increase public safety spending were placed on the ballot in municipalities across the state.
In the November elections, 85% of those referendums – 17 out of 20 of them – got approval from voters. In Kenosha, a referendum for $2.5 million to hire 10 police officers and six firefighters won approval from 53% of the voters. Last summer, Racine voters rejected a similar $2 million referendum to hire 11 new police officers with 56% of voters turning it down.
Such disparate results demonstrate the need for state government to step up support for public safety with additional shared revenues. Now, while they have the money.
Remarkably – and hopefully – Gov. Evers and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, appear to be lending a sympathetic ear to these arguments.
In his successful campaign for re-election, Evers proposed increasing state shared revenue for local governments by $91 million to pay for public safety.
Speaker Vos last month conceded that inflation has made it more difficult for local governments to pay public employees.
“We have to do something different as far as being able to pay public employees, police officers, people who work in the sanitation department, whatever field you choose, to make sure that their wages are being kept up with the private sector,” Vos said. “So I am open to the idea of updating the shared revenue formula doing something different.”
Yes, we know there will be a lot of tin cups rattling around the state to get a pinch of the $6.6 billion surplus – yes, we know that they’re pitching for $500 million to build a new prison to replace they aging Green Bay Correctional Institution and there will be dozens of other such requests.
Adjusting the state’s shared revenue formula to help communities address public safety needs should be at or near the top of that list when the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Evers sort out Wisconsin’s budget priorities.
As Larry the Cable Guy would say: “Git R Done.”
— From the Kenosha News